Jamey, one of my younger students, has a very cool, Epiphone Flying V short-scale guitar. That’s just a fancy way of saying that it is a tiny guitar made for tiny players. Despite the cool body style, this guitar has one, very uncool problem: it does not sound in tune when playing chords. Jamey asked me to help out.
After looking at the all of the usual suspects, including action, intonation and tuning stability, I was a bit befuddled. Everything checked out. But, if I played a chord, the guitar would sound awfully
out of tune! But why? Then it hit me. The strings are too spongy, too easy to bend.
When we shorten the neck of a guitar for smaller hands, we make the strings shorter. But here’s the thing: shorter strings naturally make a higher pitched note. Consequently, in order to tune the shortened string to the usual pitch, we must loosen it. A looser string feels soft and can easily be see-sawed out of tune by pressing it too hard against the fret (think of a vertical bend). That’s the phenomenon that is happening here.
To counter that effect, I put heavier strings on the guitar (0.13s to be exact). Heavier gauge strings are naturally lower pitched and therefore need to be tightened to bring them to standard tuning. That’s exactly what we need: a stiffer string that will resist that see-saw bending effect and keep the notes that are being fretted closer to proper tuning.
Next time you witness this phenomenon on a short-scale guitar, try putting heavy gauge strings on it. That may be exactly what you need.
For more information about me and the guitar lessons that I give in and around Baltimore, visit www.ewguitar.com.